When I was a little girl, we used to play Hide the Thimble with my grandmother. The rule was you had to hide it “in plain sight.” A thimble hidden in plain sight is surprisingly hard to find! Especially if you put it against something silver-colored. The end of the T.V. antenna was my favorite spot.
In marriage, you also search for a prize that’s hidden in plain sight: emotional desires. Support for each other’s emotional desires is the key to what you long for in your relationship: closeness, understanding, and acceptance. And yet I’m sure you keep your desires, at least some of them, well hidden from your partner.
We all know what it feels like when you have something you need to talk about with your partner. You can’t help chewing on it while you’re driving or trying to fall asleep. You try to tell yourself it’s no big deal, but the hurt lingers and makes you feel annoyed or distant.
But it’s not only the big problems that are worth talking about. Sometimes it’s good to take time to repair the small bruises of day to day life. Small repairs can lead you to understand new parts of your partner and create unexpected moments of closeness.
As the counseling session wrapped up, Sandy asked if we could schedule our next appointment for two weeks out instead of one. That way they would have more time to do their ‘homework’ and practice the communication skills they were learning.
“Yeah,” said Sandy’s husband, Mark, “We’re so busy we have to come to counseling to just to have a date!”
“My wife and I need to learn to communicate,” said Tom. That’s what most people say when they call to schedule a marriage counseling appointment. And usually they’re right.
Three weeks later, I told Tom and Karla: “Communication is a problem, but it’s not the main problem. The main problem is that you’ve created a life you don’t like. And now you’re blaming each other for it.”
“Now that’s a silly question,” you’re probably thinking. “I’ve got a report due Friday, 200 emails in my inbox, and a manager breathing down my neck-that’s why I’m still at work.”
You may be right. Sometimes you have no choice. You’re new, you’ve got a deadline, or that’s just the culture you work in. Sometimes it’s the job.
But sometimes it’s you.
I feel very lucky to live in a country where work can be more than just a way to survive. Where it can nourish the mind, build self-esteem, and provide what novelist Henry James described as “the most agreeable emotion of the human heart”-success.
But a lot of us are getting too much of a good thing. When work becomes all-consuming, the rest of our lives suffer, including our sense of well-being and our relationships.
Janet and Nate were on the verge of divorce when they first came to see me. Four months later, they were feeling closer to each other than they ever had before. What turned their marriage around? According to Janet and Nate, the most important change they made was checking in with each other every night about their day.
Last week at a party, a woman I was chatting with said that she thought people give up on marriage too easily. Even if the marriage can’t be saved, people need to dig deeper to understand their problems, she said. Otherwise, we just carry our baggage to the next relationship.
What is baggage, anyway? How do you know when it’s weighing down your relationship? And what can you do about it?